Masked HK students chant at graduation

Sarah Wu and Jessie Pang
Students pay tribute to victims in the anti-government protest movement before their graduation

Hong Kong students, many wearing banned black masks, have chanted slogans at their graduation at the Chinese University, with some holding up banners urging "Free Hong Kong, Revolution Now".

The students defied a ban on masks that the government imposed last month in a bid to curb sometimes violent unrest that has rocked the Chinese-ruled city for more than five months.

Dressed in formal graduation gowns, many of about 1000 students chanted as they walked to the hill-top ceremony, near the New Territories town of Sha Tin, calling for the government to respond to protesters' "five demands, not one less" that include universal suffrage in choosing the city's leader.

A man singing the Chinese national anthem and holding a knife during the graduation ceremony on Thursday was taken away by security officers.

The protests started over a now-scrapped extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial but have evolved into calls for democracy, an end to Chinese meddling in the city's promised freedoms and an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality, among other things.

The university said it cut the ceremony short after the degrees were handed out.

About 100 people, including candidates running in November 24 district council elections, the lowest tier of voting, marched against violence on Thursday.

A man stabbed and wounded pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho on Wednesday. Jimmy Sham, a leader of Hong Kong's Civil Human Rights Front, was beaten by men with hammers in October after his group organised mass rallies against the extradition bill.

Pro-democracy district councillor Andrew Chiu had part of his ear bitten off by a knife-wielding man on Sunday.

District council candidate Clement Woo, who joined the march, said members of the pro-establishment camp had experienced violence and intimidation.

"How can the election be a fair one if the atmosphere is like this?" Woo told Reuters. "We support democracy in Hong Kong, but democracy is incomplete without safety and fairness."

China has offered the "one country, two systems" formula for self-ruled Taiwan, an island Beijing considers a breakaway province.

The unrest has helped push Hong Kong's economy into recession for the first time in a decade. Retail and tourism sectors have been hit particularly hard as tourists stay away.